Nina Simone – Emergency Ward – Speakers Corner Records

by | Jul 5, 2023 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

This is an inspired performance from Nina Simone.

Nina Simone – Emergency Ward – RCA Records LSP-4757 (1972)/Speakers Corner Records (2023) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 33:37 ****:

(Nina Simone – piano, vocals; Weldon J. Irvine Jr. – orchestrations; Sam Waymon – vocals; Lisa Stroud – polyrhythms; featuring The Bethany Baptist Church Junior Choir Of South Jamaica, New York)

Nina Simone was a musical trailblazer. After studying classical piano for years, she became a club performer in Atlantic City, New Jersey. There she developed an eclectic repertoire which included Bach-inspired classical (with attention to 19th-century Romanticism), jazz, gospel blues, folk and soul. She became a staple on the Greenwich Village scene. As the 60’s began to unfold, Simone actively embraced the Civil Rights movement with songs like “Mississippi Goddam” which transcended the music industry, but may have restricted her commercial success. Her version of “I Loves You Porgy” is stunning and rivals Billie Holiday. More importantly, her style and individual artistic vision influenced a wide variety of artists, including Aretha Franklin, Lauren Hill, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys and Elton John, to name a few. Her accolades are numerous and resulted in a posthumous induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2018. Her legacy continues indefinitely.

Perhaps Simone’s most impactful contribution are her live albums. One of these “in concert” projects was Emergency Room (1972). Speakers Corner Records has released a 180-gram re-mastered vinyl of this unique performance. Consisting of a mere three tracks, recorded at a variety of locations, including Fort Dix, New Jersey, it is widely believed that Emergency Room was an overt criticism of the Vietnam War. Accompanied by bass, and a Baptist choir, Simone and her trademark piano are front and center. Side 1 consists of a spellbinding medley (“My Sweet Lord/Today Is A Killer”). Her gospel passion infuses her vocals with a spiritual urgency that reinvents this George Harrison hit. She brings the song to an emotional crescendo, with the choir in lockstep including handclaps with call and response. Her repeat of the chorus underscores the gritty intensity. She does slow the jam down, transitioning into the David Nelson poem, “Today Is A Killer”. Like a Sunday preacher, she injects fervor and hypnotic pulse into the arrangement. The repetition is magnetic. At approximately the 12:00 mark, she recites the plaintive message of social unrest with poignancy and grace.This part of the medley employs a bluesy “slow-down” with a breathlessly sustained long note hold. Then, she reprises the explosive My Sweet Lord” chorus. 

In a change of pace, “Poppies” is another musical poem with string and reed accompaniment. Despite the mellower vibe, there is a darker social context and a tempo shift. The ethereal orchestration  acts like a counterpoint to the edgy lyrics. A certain highlight is the gospel-laden cover of another Harrison song (“Isn’t It A Pity”) from All Things Must Pass. Simone improvises on some of the lyrics. The heartfelt vocals are compelling and her piano flourishes are intermingled with moments of tender solitude. While this is a soulful version of this song, she still manages to convey the droning resonance. It is an aspirational finish to a special album.

This vinyl upgrade of Emergency Room is a historical document of a legendary, uncompromising artist. The sound mix is excellent and captures the raw intimacy of a live concert. 

—Robbie Gerson

Nina Simone – Emergency Ward

Side 1: (medley) My Sweet Lord/Today Is A Killer
Side 2: Poppies; Isn’t It A Pity        

More information through Acoustic Sounds

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Album Cover for Nina Simone, Emergency Ward


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